Sunday, January 17, 2010

Learning to Read

I'm 34 years old.  I've never considered myself to be a "reader," one of the prerequisites I believe to being an educated person (although I'm not even sure of my definition of being "educated" yet).  Sure, I've read books throughout my life, but never consistently, and certainly not always for joy.

I remember when I was young reading The Black Cauldron.  I loved that book, and read the rest of the series as well.  I also remember reading Death Valley QTH and loving that book as well.  While the details from the books are fuzzy, I remember strange details about reading them.  For the Black Cauldron (series), I remember reading them with my glasses on, as there was a period I needed to go without contacts in order to test my eyes for surgery.  For Death Valley, the only thing I remember is reading it in a car, on a trip somewhere (where and when I can't remember).  I don't know why those details stick out in my mind, but there they are.  I'm sure I read more than just those when I was young, but can't name a single one, nor any details surrounding them.  The next books I read for pleasure were during my first three years as a teacher at Irving Middle School.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy took my time as I sat as a monitor for the state assessments.

I've read a number of other books throughout my life, but none for true pleasure.  Most of the books assigned during my high school years were exercises in tedium, the reason for which I only now can look back and see because they were "assigned."  I would read through them lazily, remembering only what I needed to in order to complete the next paper.  I wish I could say I felt differently throughout college, but for the most part, it got worse rather than better.  Reading turned to skimming to save time; I had gained enough practice in cranking out papers there seemed little need to focus on those.  Graduate school was a different story: I found myself really enjoying the literature, as it sparked a passion for what I feel is my purpose in education, and a hunger to learn more.  Even those, however, were not books to read for pleasure, they were and continue to be requirements of some form.

I can think of only three "excuses" as to why I never got hooked on reading:

1. Laziness
2. Not a priority (could always find something else to fill up my time)
3. Betrayal.

Now, the first two are probably self explanatory.  The third one, however, is strange.  I wonder if anybody else has experienced this feeling, as it has kept me from reading a great deal throughout my life.  For some reason, I almost always found myself remembering those Black Cauldron books when starting anything new.  They became my gold standard, and found nothing could quite match up.  More than that, I almost felt if I couldn't feel the same way I felt while reading those books, with the same voices in my head as the characters, it would never come alive as those books did, and ultimately would not be worth my time.  The sense of familiarity I gained with those first books was never present in anything else I read.  I know now this was only because I never gave them a chance.

When most people run, they either run without anything in their ears, or they run listening to music.  I've tried music, but I enjoy podcasts much more to fill the time.  The Totally Rad Show, TWiT, Diggnation, TWiG, Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, and HD Nation are my favorites.  This Week in Tech, hosted by Leo Laporte (one of my heroes, who happens to share my birthday) uses  as one of its sponsors.  After listening to his shows for years now, I finally thought of giving audio books a chance.

By coincidence, I happened to mention this idea to our Librarian at school.  I was shocked by her response, "Hey, if I can get you the same as for free, you can buy me lunch at least once a month, right?"  Much to my disbelief, the Norman Public Library offers FREE audio books, that you can download and play on your portable device.  I'm still a little confused with the whole "free" concept from libraries, but that's another story.

The number of books was daunting, but I landed on one I thought I might enjoy, State of Fear.  I downloaded it, and started listening on my next run.  Sure enough, that feeling crept in early, and I almost went back to my podcasts about a mile into the run.  However, I figured I was running for about an hour and a half that morning, I might as well give it that long before giving up.

For the next seven days, that book was all I listened to.  I hated coming back to the house every morning, knowing I would have to wait until the next morning to continue the story.  I just started Ender's Game, and am just now, at 34, realizing what reading is all about.  I'm ashamed it has taken this long to realize how wonderful reading is, and have a lot of catching up to do, but I sure am excited.

While this post is no surprise to most reading it, I wanted to write it for two reasons: first, to document for myself when I finally figured this out, and second, for the chance that it might motivate somebody else who isn't a "reader" to give it a try.  So, read... Y'all!  (I had to..)